Orange County Allowing Credit Cards for Cash Bail is Bad Public Policy
Orange County is the latest of several California county jails have made it possible for inmates or their families to pay the full amount of bail with a credit card. Four new kiosks were installed last week at Theo Lacy Jail in Irivine and at the Orange County Central Jail in Santa Ana (OCJ). With these kiosks it will soon be possible to pay a full bail amount with a credit card in order to arrange bail payment without the use of a bail bondsman.
How Credit Card Bail Works
Quite simply, an individual walks up to the kiosk and puts the full bail amount onto their credit card. With a valid credit card, the kiosk company will charge the full amount of the bail plus a service fee. At other County jails such as the Ventura Jail, the amount of the service fee is 7%. Let’s say that the amount of bail is $10,000. That means that the credit card will be charged $10,700.
When the defendant returns to court and the case is complete, the $10,000 will be returned to the credit card. The county as well as the “third party” processing company (unlicensed or regulated by the California Department of Insurance which overseas the bail industry) retain the remaining $700 fee.
Lack of Defendant Oversight
What happens if the defendant does not return to court after they’re released? Who is held accountable? The State? The County? Certainly not the kiosk company. Orange County and other California jurisdictions simply do not have the resources to bring in fugitives. With bail bondsmen, this isn’t an issue. If a bail bondsman is used, then they are on the financial hook for that defendant and will do what has to be done to bring the defendant in to face their charges. The bondsman does not want to pay off $10,000.
This goes against public policy and state law. The California Department of Insurance has regulations in place to ensure that only licensed bail bond agents profit by posting bail for an inmate. By allowing credit card bail, a “third party” is profiting from the process without having to be licensed by the state.
The Department of Insurance has various requirements for bail agents (known as a “surety”). One of these is the ability to pay off bonds that may forfeit through the use of an underwriter and financial reserves.
Increased Consumer Debt and Hidden Fees
Using a credit card for cash bail can be predatory to unwary consumers. The “third party” entity is only disclosing the fee amount that they charge for bail. What they do not let consumers know is that the consumer are going to be charged a cash advance fee by the credit card company. This could be at least 2%, if not more. Can you afford to pay the minimum monthly payment for such a large sum PLUS the additional interest that is going to be charged? Keep in mind that $10,000 would be a small bail amount in Orange County. Criminal cases often continue for months and sometimes years.
The Bail Industry Works
By using a bail bondsman, the consumer will always know the true cost of bailing out a loved one. Instead of a lot of hidden fees, the fee for bail is 10% of the bail – no more, no less. There are no surprises. Some bondsmen allow for bail payment plans with no interest.
Defendant released on bail with a bondsman return to court in 98% of cases nationwide. The “retail bail” or private bondsman industry gets the job done at no cost to the public.
What kind of “service” is the kiosk to the public? It’s about time the state started thinking about abolishing credit card bail from our jail systems.